Sunday, February 15, 2009

"We want security. I am tired. We just want security, that's all" - Feb 11

Um Abdullah's eldest daughter, Sheded (age 14) meets Maha, Lana and I as we walk toward their home from Manar's house. We are carrying heavy bags of food to take to them and Sheded takes one from us to carry. She walks quickly as if her load is lighter than it is and I have a hard time keeping up with her. When I meet her mother and see how she carries the burden of caring for her 5 children alone, I see where Sheded gets her energy and determination from.

Um Abdullah is only 29 years old and looks like a girl herself. But her parents
(in Baghdad) were so impoverished and could not afford to take care of her so they made a contract to have her marry a much older man - and as second wife to this man - when she was a young teenager.

They had five children together: Sheded, Jenna - age 12, Shems - age 10, the only son, Abdullah - age 8, and Thuraya - age 6.

Um Abdullah, her husband and their children came to Jordan in 2003. Her husband had been a general in the Iraqi army and, with Bremmer's deBaathification, all of those who served in the military became targets for assasination or arrest. Two of her husband's brothers were assasinated so he and Um Abdullah and their kids came to Jordan. His first wife and their children stayed behind in Baghdad.

Two years ago, one of the sons from his other family in Bagdad was kidnapped and Um Abdullah's husband went back to Iraq to try to find him. He has not been heard from since and is assumed dead.

The shock of his disappearance "caused" Um Abdullah and her daughter Jenna to become diabetic (this is something I hear frequently - about shock or sorrow causing health problems) They are both on interdermal insulin. The cost for insulin for Um Abdullah and Jenna is 180 JD per month ($254).

Um Abdullah receives the monthly cash grant of160 JD ($226) from UNHCR. Out of that she is supposed to pay her rent of 80 JD ($113) per month, electricity, and water - and feed the children, as well as buying the insulin.

As you can see, this is impossible. No assistance organizations help her with the insulin or other things. When asked how she makes it, she replied "I must pick and choose what bills I pay"

Both Um Abdullah and Jenna have fainted while out of the house from the diabetes. It is obvious that they need re-examined and their insulin adjusted. They cannot afford to pay for the exams. Um Abdullah is worried that she will faint when she is out of the house and alone so she always takes at least one of the children with her when she goes anywhere.

She has not had water to the flat for several months because she cannot afford it. Sometimes neighbors give her some. Although her back bill is only 30 JD ($43) it is impossible for her to pay it.

The electricity was supposed to be disconnected because she hasn't paid the bill but, when the service man came to disconnect it, she cried and plead with him to leave it on. Since their house is actually an underground storage for the building above it, when there is no light inside snakes enter into their home!

This man had a heart. He disconnected the service so that he would not get in trouble with his work but then, later that night, he came back and reconnected it on the sly. She owes 50 JD ($71) in back electricity bills. She told us, "Some people are very good."

She is also behind in her rent.

Maha had arranged for a wealthy Iraqi donor here in Amman to give Um Abdullah 50 JD per month to help her but, because this man lost a great deal of money when the financial markets dived, he stopped helping her three months ago.

Despite their extreme hardship, Um Abdullah take exquisite care of her children. Even without water, they are clean and kempt. The tiny house is tidy. The children, after saying their salams to us, immediately went into the minuscule bedroom the entire family shares, got out their school work and began studying. Um Abdullah brags that they are all good students - scoring on their exams in the high 90's.

The children are very well-behaved and I cant help but admire Um Abdullah, as young as she is and with the burden she carries after all she has been through. It would have been easy for her to give up on everything but she puts all of her faith and hope into her children. She wants them to have the best chance they can get. However, as are many Iraqi children in Jordan, her kids are discriminated against and sometimes other children throw stones at them when they walk to and home from school. It is hard to imagine anyone attempting to hurt these children; they have such dignity that it would seem it would be a deterent to abuse. Unfortunately, it isn't.

When asked if she wants to immigrate to the US, she said she does not. She feels that the upheaval would be too hard for the kids and she thinks they have the best chance here, in their own culture. Because of stories we have heard about the extreme challenges many resettled Iraqis to the US endure - and the pathetically inadequate support many receive when resettled there, we have to agree with her.

We ask what her plans are. She said "I cannot go to my home soil and I have to stay here and beg for money from the UN. I guess I have to say thank you to God because I have the lessor of two evils" (the violence of living in Iraq vs begging in Amman)
She asks us for a Micro-Project and before we can tell her that we have had to suspend this program until our funding increases again, she told us that she and Sheded have been accompanying a neighbor when they video-tape weddings and parties. They have been learning how to do this and she would like to get camera equipment so they can do this as a small home business. It is something she and her older daughters can do together. "Or", she says, "I can sew well; a sewing machine would be ok. This way I can work at home and be with my children."
Maha and I quickly consult with one another; we both have the same thought - that even though we are not granting Micro-Projects at this time, we want to make an exception for Um Abdullah. Maha and I discuss that Code Pink NYC is having a benefit for Collateral Repair Project on the 12th - perhaps we can present Um Abdullah's story to them and ask if the funds they raise can go to purchase equipment for Um Abdullah's Micro-Project.

We told Um Abdullah of our plan and that, if Code Pink NYC agrees and can raise the funds, we can help her with the Micro-Project. We remind her that, at this time, it is not certain that will happen but we will let her know as soon as we do. We also ask her to not tell others if we are able to grant her a Micro-Project. Maha is bombarded with requests for Micro-Projects constantly and we do not want anyone to feel they have been excluded.

We prepare to leave and we all say "Insha'allah" (God willing) that she will be able to get her Micro-Project.

Um Abdullah tells us, "We want security. I am tired. We just want security, that's all"

We hope that Code Pink NYC will agree to help her wish to become true and that a Micro-Project can grant this struggling family a little more security. And we hope that soon contributions to CRP will increase soon so that we can return to providing Micro-Projects on a regular basis to those in need of a little more security. Please help if you can.